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Squad Goals

March 2, 2018

Looking back, I don’t know that I was aware of how big  a simple little decision would be in terms of my family’s healing.  As an educator, the number one thing I try to pass on to my students (who will be future teachers) is the necessity to build relationships with their students.  They often hear me say No student will care to learn from you until they know you care. Teachers (and mentors, coaches, and leaders) who provide a culture of belongingness can lead any group, any team, or any squad through anything . . . including tragedy.

Turns out this rings true for moms too.

Ten years ago, when I asked my sister-in-law to have t-shirts made so that we could wear them to Reed’s services, I don’t think I was consciously aware of how that would be one of the single most pivotal decisions in my life.  What I did know is that even though we would be saying an earthly good-bye to our son and brother, what we needed was something to bring us together when it would have been easier to get lost in the chaos.  We needed to belong to something bigger than our individual grief journeys.

That something was the creation of “Team Stevens” and membership was signified by plain red and white raglan tees.  Red not just because it was Reed’s favorite color, but also because that is literally what his name means – red-haired. The name came out of a more profound sense of loss.  Before our darkest day, we had referred to ourselves as the “Stevens Six”, but now six didn’t fit any longer.  Six wasn’t our magic number anymore. There would be an empty seat at the table and an even bigger hole in our hearts.  Being a sports fan, “Team Stevens” just popped into my mind and it stuck.

I have to give it to my sister-in-law, she didn’t even hesitate.  Not so much as a batted eyelash. If I wanted Team Stevens shirts, she was going to make that happen.

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From the moment I put my team shirt on, I felt wrapped in a divine hug that comforted my soul, knowing that we had found our new identity.  In grief circles, the term “new normal” is spoken about often, representing the new way of doing things without a loved one present. Our membership in Team Stevens was and still is just one small part of our bigger identity grounded and rooted in the love of God.  But with those simple tees, our new purpose was to cling to the hope only found in Jesus and to stick together no matter what came next.

It’s a good thing the first one is unshakably true, because we had no idea what hard work the next ten years would be with joy intermingled with grief, pain with peace, and exhaustion with unending love and support. 

As the 10th anniversary of our darkest day approached, I wanted something not to mark what we had lost (because honestly there is never a moment we forget that), but more so to signify how far we had come (using our story to touch the lives of others).  Giving back, not in repayment of all the kindnesses poured out to us, but more so, because through our pain we have learned the power of spiritual ocular clarity.  We now see how much hurt, pain and grief is in the world, and our membership in Team Stevens provides us the perfect platform to shine light in someone else’s darkness.

But in 10 years, the old red and white tees have been stained and outgrown and simply loved to threads.  Much like the request to my sweet Lori ten years ago, I wrote a simple email to a company that I admire and shared our story.  I have learned that after the worst thing that can happen occurs, having someone say “No, we can’t” pales in comparison.  I wrote the message and would have been perfectly comfortable had the response been one to decline my request.

I am somewhat of a fashion enigma.  I feel most comfortable in two different extremes,  either dresses or t-shirts and a pair of jeans. Two crazy ends of a spectrum of personal comfort, and this incredible company fell into the latter category because they have an amazing design team who create really awesome tees.  Although I have to wonder if a little red-head in heaven steered my search in finding them, prior to my crazy message, I had no idea that they were a Christian founded company until I heard back from the owner, Scott, who was touched by our story and offered to work with us on shirts.  From there, I met via phone with the creativity director, Caleb, and the rest was well . . .  t-shirt perfection.

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When the sample artwork arrived, I had wanted to keep it a secret for Christmas but the design exceeded my expectations. The tears welled up and softly fell as I found one thing after another that represented that sense of belonging I had tried so hard to create ten years prior. There was Reed’s art mark, Reed and Huck on the edge of a lake, and our team name all wrapped up with the cardinal that could serve as our Team mascot. One by one the others were equally touched by the design’s aptness.  The !nk team (who little do they know are now members of our Team) took a simple request and gave us so much more than a garment, they gave us continued hope wrapped in a heavenly hug, just like one of  Reed’s crazy sneak up beyond you bear squeezes.

For their talents and kindnesses, I cannot be more thankful, but more so, for their part in helping fulfill our squad goal of living a life filled with hope and gratitude, we are truly blessed.

And somehow I think Reed would be oh so proud!

One Comment
  1. Val Breczinski permalink

    Reed would be very proud of his momma and his family just like my family is of you. The shirt is awesome. Thanks for sharing,

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